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Sarah Yee


May 17, 2024

The Mysteries of Macros

Many of us remember the infamous Food Pyramid from our childhood - that huge poster in every health class and nurse’s office that told us to eat 2 to 3 servings of dairy per day, along with 3 to 5 servings of vegetables and a whooping 6 to 11 servings of corn, bread, cereal, rice and pasta. 

Even as a small child, I marveled at this, bordering on horrified. ELEVEN servings of bread??? I had a friend who refused to eat anything but pasta - she was probably the only American child after 1807 to develop scurvy - and she didn’t eat eleven servings a day! Were my own parents starving me???

Of course, now we know that the old-school Food Pyramid is not just a ridiculous way to plan your diet, but it was actually funded by agricultural associations. (Big Wheat is a thing!) If you need any further proof, just look at the top of that pyramid. Fats, an essential nutrient to live, are to be eaten “sparingly”.

Look out bread - here comes avocado oil

That’s right, ‘70s and ‘80s babies - we need fat to survive. Same goes for proteins and carbohydrates. These three categories are the macronutrients (“macros”) that sustain our energy, our healing, and our overall health. There are micronutrients too (minerals and vitamins, primarily), but we will concentrate on macros here.

So, what exactly are macros?

Here’s the very, very simplistic version of what these macronutrients are, what they do for us, and some high quality foods that (largely) fall within these categories.

Carbohydrates are sugars.

This encompasses everything from the straight sugar you might use in your coffee to the complex carbs that make up most of the structure in vegetables and fruits.

Carbs provide us with energy, particularly short-term energy, which is something you’re aware of if you’ve ever tried the keto diet (which minimizes carbs) and you’re falling asleep every day at 1:00pm.

Carbs are often divided between “starchy” and “non-starchy” foods - the starchy ones are more tightly packed with carbs.

Examples of starchy foods include potatoes (all kinds), corn, and peas. Examples of non-starchy foods include fruit, watery vegetables like zucchini and bell peppers, and mushrooms.

Proteins are polymer chains of amino acids

(Which is very little help to understanding what it is, unless you’re a biologist.)

Proteins give us essential nutrients that our bodies can’t make on their own and that we need to function, because without them, we can’t grow, heal, or even maintain our bodies’ structure. Muscle is mostly protein, which is why you’ll hear so much about getting your protein in.

Proteins aren’t just found in animals - plenty of non-animal items like plants and nuts have protein in them. They need to have structure and grow too, after all.

Examples include beans, lentils, meats, and yogurt.

Fats are, well, fats.

More specifically, they’re fatty acids. Although demonized for a long time, fats are the best bang for your buck, nutritionally speaking. They have 9 kcals per gram (carbs and proteins only have 4), which means they’re densely packed with energy for long-term use by the body. They have a lot of other benefits too, like maintaining your skin and hair and even your metabolism.

We don’t usually eat pure fats in high quality foods - they come along with other macros.

Examples include nuts, cheese, milk, and avocado.

There are no "bad" macros

Remember that none of these macros are “bad”, despite what decades of diet culture have told you. Neither are calories. They’re essential - they keep us alive and going! But they do different things, and anything that’s really out of balance might have some unintended consequences, like afternoon crashes, sluggish recovery, or lack of stamina. 

Carbs and especially fats have been demonized by our diet culture, but a mix of all three is necessary to improve your performance in the box and in your life.

Here’s an easy way to measure your intake of each macro that requires no weighing and no calorie counting. Using your hand as a guide, try to get the following per meal:

  1. 1-2 palms of protein dense food.
  2. 1-2 fists of non-starchy vegetables.
  3. 1-2 cupped handfuls of carb-dense foods.
  4. 1-2 thumbs of fat-dense foods.

For women - in general - we are going to tend toward the lower end of these measurements. Men will be on the higher end. Like what we’ve discussed before with quantity and quality, there’s wiggle room here, and that’s where your self-assessment comes in. Are you feeling sluggish? Is your hair less shiny? Are you feeling weaker when you do those heavy lifts?

We are heading into the last 4 weeks of our Nutrition Challenge, so it’s the perfect opportunity to look at your plate and see what you’re lacking and what you’re overdoing. Again, these are all essential components for your body to work, so set aside that diet mindset and approach your food choices with an eye on quality and balance rather than calories. Trust and listen to your body, and it will tell you a lot.

Remember that the MGCF staff is always here to assist you in your nutrition plans.

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